If you’re of a certain age, then you’ve probably experienced a few aches and pains. Usually, they’re just part and parcel of getting older; on occasion, though, seemingly ordinary twinges could signify something more serious. That was the experience of Twitter user gwheezie, who told her alarming story on the social media site in December 2018.
A professional nurse, gwheezie had started to feel some pain in various areas of her upper body – from her shoulders to her arms. Perhaps using her best judgment, she originally put the discomfort down to nothing more than a bad case of muscle strain, and so she continued on with her life as normal.
However, gwheezie’s seemingly innocuous symptoms would take a really worrying turn. The nurse began to feel quite sick and began to vomit; she also found herself sweating profusely. Naturally, then, the concerned Twitter user called 911.
After that, gwheezie was transported to the hospital, where medical professionals finally discovered what the problem was. Then, a few days later, she returned to Twitter to recount everything that had happened – including the details of her condition. And gwheezie had a message for any other women who may be experiencing similar symptoms, too.
Of course, gwheezie is hardly alone in having aching muscles. Indeed, many people will experience such twinges – whether they’re down to growing pains as a youngster or the result of the regular wear and tear on the body that comes with age. But while such issues usually ease off, that isn’t always the case.
You may be suffering from a form of muscle strain, for instance – perhaps as a consequence of vigorous activity at work or playing a physically demanding sport. That said, the symptoms of the injury can vary in different people depending on what they’ve done; there may be bruises in the affected area or even inflammation.
Yet although muscle strains may feel incredibly uncomfortable, they can be dealt with. One of the most common remedies is referred to as P.R.I.C.E, and as the acronym suggests, it involves five different stages of treatment. The first step is “Protection,” meaning the person should cover up the affected area with a form of padding.
From there, the second stage is “Rest,” followed by “Ice” and then “Compression,” with this latter step requiring a bandage to be applied to the muscle to aid its recovery. Then, the final stage is “Elevation.” In other instances, though, the person affected may be given some medicine for the problem.
And as muscle strain is a fairly common affliction, one woman believed that she was suffering from just that at the end of 2018. However, after she had dealt with the pain for a noticeable period, other symptoms began to emerge that made it clear this was a far more serious problem than she had first assumed.
Posting under the name gwheezie on Twitter, the social media user shared her experience on the website in December 2018. To kick things off, she had a message for any other women in similar positions to herself. Then she revealed what her medical issue had actually been – and what she was ultimately diagnosed with proved to be quite an eye-opener.
“I want to warn women our heart attacks feel different,” gwheezie wrote in a lengthy tweet. “Last Sunday, I had a heart attack. I had a 95 percent block in my left anterior descending artery. I’m alive because I called 911.” And the nurse also shared a surprising piece of information regarding her symptoms.
“I never had chest pain,” gwheezie revealed on the social media website. “It wasn’t what you read in pamphlets. I had it off and on for weeks.” Prior to contacting the emergency services, though, she hadn’t felt as though her health problem was particularly serious.
Yes, initially gwheezie believed that her symptoms were a sign of something else entirely. “The pain ran across my upper back, shoulder blades and equally down both arms,” she continued. “It felt like burning and aching. I actually thought it was muscle strain.” Before long, though, the severity of the situation became clear.
Having had what appeared to be an innocuous muscle ache at first, gwheezie began to feel really sick. And as her condition continued to worsen, she finally decided to seek out some help. “It wasn’t until I broke into drenching sweat and started vomiting that I called 911,” the Twitter user recalled.
Then gwheezie explained why she thought her upper body pain was down to muscle strain. As the woman revealed, she had previously exerted her body before the incident, leading her to assume that her aches were merely the result of strenuous physical activity.
“I’m a nurse,” gwheezie wrote on Twitter. “I’m an older woman. I had been spending the week helping my neighbor clean out her barn, [so] I thought I strained some muscles. I took [ibuprofen] and put a warm pack on my shoulders, [and] I almost died because I didn’t call it chest pain.”
From there, gwheezie reflected upon what she had done in the hours before calling an ambulance. According to the nurse, she’d spent a significant period in her car traveling to see one of her parents. And at that stage, she had also toyed with the idea of getting some help for her condition.
“The day before my heart attack, I drove six hours to help my mother who lives in another state,” gwheezie continued. “I thought I should go to a doctor, but I had to help my mom, who is 90. And I’d just tough it out because it wasn’t real bad.”
However, as gwheezie had previously revealed, her condition ultimately reached a point where she needed to call 911. And the nurse still didn’t know what the problem was at that time; fortunately, though, the paramedics knew just where to take her.
“I was lucky, I had no idea what hospital to go to,” gwheezie added. “The female medics who picked me up took me to a hospital that does cardiac caths. I had four stents placed an hour after I got to the ER. That was Sunday. I was discharged Thursday, and [I’m] at my daughter’s house and back to tweeting.”
But while gwheezie was able to receive assistance in time, others may not be as fortunate. It’s important, then, for women to understand when they may be having a heart attack – not least because the symptoms may differ to those commonly experienced by men going through the same medical event.
For instance, Dr. Nieca Goldberg told the website heart.org, “Although men and women can experience chest pressure that feels like an elephant sitting across the chest, women can experience a heart attack without chest pressure. Instead, they may experience shortness of breath, pressure or pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen.”
Goldberg added, “[Women may also experience] dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting, upper back pressure or extreme fatigue.” There’s a good chance, then, that some women may not know the potential severity of those particular symptoms. But the signs of a heart attack don’t end there.
You see, as gwheezie suggested in her Twitter post, aches and pains relating to a heart attack aren’t always constant. And this was backed up by a physician named Jennifer Haythe, who works at the Columbia University Irving Medical Center.
“[Inconsistent aches and pains are] common for coronary artery disease and should be taken seriously,” Haythe told Yahoo!’s lifestyle website in 2018. “Chest pain is still the number one symptom for men and women. And any symptoms of chest pain should prompt a visit to the emergency room.”
However, according to California Heart Associates cardiologist Dr. Sanjiv Patel, there are differences between harmless aches and those that may turn out to be more serious. And in explaining the distinctions, he used a straightforward example.
“If you have pain and it gets worse when you exert yourself, that’s more likely to be a sign of a cardiac issue,” Patel told Yahoo! “If you have pain and difficulty breathing when you’re sitting and watching TV, [and] you get up and walk around and it goes away, the pain is probably not related to your heart.”
Patel added, “But if you do something and [the pain] gets worse, and it comes back the next day for a longer period of time, you’ll want to see a doctor.” But why do men and women appear to experience different symptoms when suffering heart attacks? Well, according to Dr. Jennifer Wider, there are a couple of theories as to why this may be.
“It could have to do with a difference in pain thresholds between men and women,” Wider suggested to Yahoo! “Women often blow off the symptoms [of a heart attack] because they are more subtle and less recognizable. It may also have to do with hormones. The right ventricle is larger in men, which may play a role in the difference in symptoms.”
And perhaps gwheezie’s tweet will go on to save some lives. In any case, it received a lot of attention, racking up more than 36,000 retweets and more than 72,000 likes. There were in excess of 1,500 comments replying to the message, too, with several women choosing to share their own heart attack stories in response.
“I was an outlier and thought my shoulder [and] back pain was from yoga,” wrote one Twitter user in the thread. “I was [a] young non-smoker, not overweight, no family history [and had] no high cholesterol or blood pressure. [It was] totally out of the blue. [I’m a] two-year survivor.”
Another tweeter claimed that they, too, had brushed off their symptoms as being inconsequential – at least, at first. Just as had happened to gwheezie, though, the signs only got worse, and they ultimately led to a trip to the ER.
“Same!” the user wrote in response. “The shoulder blade pain absolutely did not register as a heart attack. It wasn’t until I was in so much pain that I was gasping for air that I finally went to the ER. I was rushed in for surgery ten minutes after the [electrocardiogram] was hooked up to me.”
Yet another fellow Twitter user echoed gwheezie’s initial warning about heart attack symptoms in women. And the individual in question was rather alarmingly young at the time of her heart attack, as they would go on to reveal.
“I’m 35 and suffered a heart attack eight months ago,” the poster wrote. “I did not have the signs you hear about and see on TV. I had no chest pain and no numbness in either arm or hand.” They continued, “I did feel a tad achy and flu-like. It wasn’t until I felt like I was somewhat having a panic attack. Be careful!”
As the discussion continued on social media, however, gwheezie’s tale made waves elsewhere. Yahoo! covered her story, which in turn prompted more than 170 comments from readers. And, once again, a number of women came forward to share their respective experiences of heart attacks.
Thanks to these commenters and gwheezie, then, the issue of heart attacks in women has been brought to wider attention. And in turn, more women may be aware of what to look out for now if they feel any kind of unusual pain. But there’s still some way to go yet.
You see, heart disease is the leading cause of death for women living in America. And according to Goldberg, this may be because some have tended to brush off any symptoms of the condition until it’s too late – leading them to experience lethal heart attacks.
“[Women] do this because they are scared and because they put their families first,” Goldberg told heart.org. “There are still many women who are shocked that they could be having a heart attack.” And the doctor revealed some of her experiences with female patients in the past.
“Many women I see take an aspirin if they think they are having a heart attack and never call 911,” Goldberg continued. “But if they think about taking an aspirin for their heart attack, they should also call 911.” Those thoughts were echoed by Haythe, who added to Yahoo!, “Take your body seriously. It’s usually telling you something.”